Max Verstappen’s obvious anger after his clash with George Russell in Formula 1’s first sprint race of the season was the culmination of several factors.
First, there’s the understandable frustration of a driver fresh from a race that has not gone his way. That drives all the emotion that Verstappen laid bare over the radio, in parc ferme and in his interviews.
Plus, the nature of the incident itself was pretty 50-50, and in that scenario, it’s inevitable that the driver on the wrong end of the outcome rages that they have been hard done by. Likewise, if Verstappen was on the other side of the equation, he would almost certainly insist he did little wrong.
Doubtless Verstappen was also annoyed at having to do the entire race with a damaged car, which nullified his attempt to pass Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari let alone try to challenge Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez for the win. So he’s dropped points.
The incident also represented an element of the sprint format he clearly dislikes: the added jeopardy for him and the ‘nothing-to-lose’ mentality it can spark in others.
And finally, Verstappen may just know he made a misjudgement, so he’s lashing out through sheer frustration.
It’s understandable. This was not a clear-cut incident in which either driver did something terribly wrong. It was one on the inside being aggressive and perhaps taking a bit too much speed in, and one on the outside being aggressive and perhaps taking a bit too much of a chance in a risky position.
Verstappen didn’t need to leave himself that vulnerable. Trying to hold on around the outside of any of the first three corners at this track – and many others, really – is asking for trouble. At the very least it’s asking for a lot of cooperation from the car on the inside.
That car, in this case Russell’s, has to leave space. That’s the requirement. And you can see why Verstappen will argue that didn’t happen.
Russell didn’t get Turn 2 completely right. He missed the apex slightly, the front slid a little wide, and that is a key factor in why they made contact. So, Verstappen’s right to be annoyed. Any driver would be pissed off in his situation there.
At the same time, Verstappen had more margin to give. Russell is pinned fairly tightly and that is a contributing factor. Russell’s not obliged to back out of it or not take a risk, as long as he avoids steaming in completely out of control, which he did.
Sometimes an aggressive move does mean the other driver just has to yield. As Verstappen should know all too well.
As it was the opening lap, this mess of factors means it was always likely to be chalked up to just a racing incident. One that Verstappen probably should have seen coming. Russell has much less to lose than he does and, given where Russell starts in the grand prix tomorrow, in this incident he was staring at his best opportunity of the weekend.
The risk of fighting that so hard around the outside probably didn’t outweigh the reward. And while Verstappen got a reasonable amount of damage from it he’s actually lucky it wasn’t anything worse – he could easily have paid the ultimate price had he ended up slapping the wall hard. Especially when he launched the final attempt on the outside of Turn 3, by which time he really should have yielded.
Verstappen is as successful and effective a driver as he is because of how laser-focused he can be on what’s in front of him. That can often mean fighting every race, every lap, every corner as if that’s all that matters.
But he isn’t always that way and has shown more refinement in battle than he’s often given credit for. This started to become apparent through 2020, was a key feature of certain drives in his 2022 campaign and was also evident in Saudi Arabia and Australia this year.
Verstappen’s known for a few years that the better the car, the more a driver can play the percentages in dicey moments because there is a greater chance of a successful recovery.
He’s right to be annoyed by what happened, but he also got those percentages wrong.